What Is a Green Collar Job and Why Should I Care?

>> Thursday, October 8, 2009

In this sermon of the Green Jobs Gospel, we'll start with the basics.

What Is a Green Collar Job?

:: blue-collar employment that has been upgraded to better respect the environment

:: family-supporting, career-track, vocational, or trade-level employment in environmentally-friendly fields

(as defined by Van Jones in The Green Collar Economy)
A green collar job is blue collar work transformed to meet the needs of a greener economy. In general, it requires higher education than a high school degree (such as vocational training or a trade license) but not necessarily a college degree. Most importantly, green collar jobs involve good pay, job security, and career potential.

Industries with green-collar opportunities and sample jobs in those fields include:

Waste Management

"More than 56,000 recycling and reuse centers across the country already employ over 1.1 million people. Entry-level jobs in recycling include collection, sorting, driving, and loading and can lead to advanced positions like operations manager. Entry-level jobs in materials-reuse operations include salvaging, sorting, driving, warehousing, packaging, and retail sales, after which an employee can move up to warehouse manager or floor manager."*
  • collecting, sorting, and processing recyclables
  • composting
  • salvaging materials and deconstruction of old buildings
  • refurbishing computers and other electronics
  • construction of new green homes and buildings
  • weatherization of existing homes and buildings
  • water-wise plumbing

"TreePeople predicts that about three hundred jobs will be created, including manufacturing and installation of water-capture systems, adapting landscaping to function as watershed, and maintaining the landscapes, trees, berms, cisterns, and other elements of the system." - referring to a specific landscaping organization and project in Los Angeles to build cisterns to capture rainwater*
  • water-wise landscaping
  • urban forestation
  • green roof maintenance
  • watershed creation and management
  • solar panel manufacturing and installation
  • wind turbine manufacturing and installation
  • geothermal
Public Transit

"Transit investments actually create many more jobs than highway construction boondoggles: per $1 billion invested only 42,000 jobs are created in highway construction versus 80,000 in transit capital projects and an additional 100,000 jobs in transit operations. And many more local and long-term jobs are created in transit than in highway construction." - referring to a study by the Surface Transportation Policy Project*
  • manufacturing of trains and construction of rail lines
  • operation of buses and trains
Automobile Industry
  • manufacturing hybrids and electric vehicles
  • maintenance and repair of hybrids and electric vehicles
*All quotes from Van Jones in The Green Collar Economy

Why Should I Care?

The availability of blue-collar jobs in America has been declining in recent years. Greening those jobs will revitalize many dying industries, fight outsourcing, create sorely needed employment opportunities, and give a boost to our floundering economy.

In some cases rather than creating new jobs, a transition from blue-collar to green-collar will create new opportunities for existing labor. For example, construction workers that have been out of work since the housing bubble burst will be able to find new employment in retrofitting homes and buildings. And the many people who've lost jobs in the collapse of the automobile industry would benefit from a transition to hybrids and electric vehicles (or even transitioning to manufacturing solar panels).

Additionally, gaining green collar skills can make a blue collar employee more marketable. A plumber that can install a solar-powered water heater or an electrician that can set up a solar power grid will be much more valuable to our future economy than plumbers and electricians who stubbornly cling to old skills.

Finally, even white collar employees should recognize a vested interest in this subject since each category of possible green collar jobs has the added potential for entrepreneurship and white collar employment.

How Can I Find Out More?


Jim October 9, 2009 at 9:40 AM  

You have defined green collar jobs using the social justice lens. But for everyone (such as Van Jones) who sees a green collar job as a blue collar job 'turned green,' there's someone else who uses the term green collar job interchangeably with 'green job.' And green jobs, perhaps determined as green simply on the basis of whether or not they are good for the environment, are wide and varied in terms of education levels, industries and type of work. In fact, the first documented use of the term green collar job (in a book called Green-Collar Jobs by Alan Durning) did not use the social justice lens. My point is that there isn't just one (legitimate) definition of green collar jobs.
-Jim Cassio, Co-author of Green Careers: Choosing Work for a Sustainable Future (cassio.com)

Erin aka Conscious Shopper October 9, 2009 at 2:37 PM  

@Jim - Thank you for this clarification. You're right that some people use green jobs and green-collar jobs interchangeably. However, for this series of posts on green-collar employment, I agree with Jones and several of the other organizations I linked to that there is a difference between a green job and a green-collar job for two reasons: One is to show my support for Van Jones, whose book I loved and whose ideas I highly respect. The other reason is that I think many of the people who would be interested in white collar employment in a green-related field are already aware of the opportunities available to them and have the means to obtain the skills for those jobs. But people often don't realize that greening our economy is extremely beneficial for blue-collar workers as well, and those workers often don't have the knowledge or money required to move forward into those types of positions. This is just the first article I'll be writing on that subject.

I agree, though, that there are many many jobs available under the umbrella "green jobs" beyond blue-collar employment. It's exciting to think about!

Padmanaban November 26, 2009 at 7:10 AM  

There are lots of jobs for the persons with more knowledge, so try to acquire more knowledge by learning new things.

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